That Jaguar decided to launch the new 2012 XF 2.2 diesel in Munich is telling. The British carmaker's incursion deep into enemy territory is indicative of the Coventry-based company's growing confidence in its cars.
The future looks rosy. The present isn't too bad either. Jaguar's volume selling model, the XF, has an assertive new design for the 2012 model year and the facelift brings with it an all-new variant, a four-cylinder turbodiesel variant that will be available in Australia from October.
Forgive me for spilling the beans so early, but it's a delight to drive. Commendable road manners result from a pleasant blend of ride comfort and sporty handling, and the engine is quiet, responsive and frugal. The interior? Bordering on lavish...
Ja's newest model has the potential to attract new customers to the brand not only because it's the most affordable model from Jaguar thus far, priced at under $80k, but that it sips fuel at such a low rate you'd think the digital gauge had malfunctioned.
The XF 2.2 diesel is also the first Jaguar vehicle to be fitted with the company's newly developed engine stop-start system. Could this be one of the most balanced cars Jaguar has ever made?
PRICE AND EQUIPMENT
>> Priced to thrill
Introduced as the Jaguar XF 2.2 Luxury diesel, the upper-medium prestige car will be priced at $78,900 when it arrives in Australia from October and is kitted out with pretty much everything but MI5 rocket boosters.
Alcantara and bond grain leather seats with electric adjustment for driver and front passenger are the first things you notice in the car, followed by what seems to be acres of leather covering the dashboard and door inserts. This leather-clad interior is very British, and it makes a massive first impression.
Equipped not only to rival but better its German opponents, the Jaguar XF 2.2 Luxury diesel also features keyless start, an electric park brake, rain-sensing windscreen wipers and light-sensing HID xenon headlights, an interior mood lighting setup with 'Phosphor Blue Halo Illumination' electric windows and mirrors plus a seven-inch colour touch-screen infotainment display (which is a lot easier to use than BMW's iDrive).
Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming are also standard issue, and a 400W 10-speaker audio system is a very nice addition, which compares well against the BMW 520d's six-speaker unit. An electrically adjustable three-spoke softgrain leather steering wheel with gear shift paddles and remote controls for cruise, audio and Bluetooth is part of the package, and automatic dual zone climate control with air filtration is likewise standard, as is cruise control.
Outside the car, LED "J-blade" daytime running lights give the front end a distinctive look, and there's also LED brake lights at the rear plus parking sensors and 17-inch alloy wheels at all four corners.
Sat nav is not standard, but will cost "sub $3000" bundled with a 30Gb hard drive, says Jaguar.
>> Jag adds eco engine, eco technology
The single biggest technical update to the 2012 Jaguar XF facelift is the arrival of the new four-cylinder AJ-i4D engine -- a 2.2-litre turbodiesel unit that was originally used by Land Rover on the Freelander.
Fitted to the Freelander SUV this four-cylinder diesel wasn't the most refined engine. It was a bit clattery, to be blunt. But Jaguar's powertrain boffins made significant modifications to the engine, now in its third generation, to improve refinement and reduce noise and vibration levels (NVH) to better suit this upmarket application.
Re-engineered for longitudinal deployment in the XF Jaguar (it's a transverse unit in the Landie), the 2.2-litre diesel is now a much nicer powerplant. This can be attributed to improved acoustic insulation under the engine top cover, along with sound absorbing materials in key areas, such as the oil pan, front timing cover and behind the turbo and starter motor.
Vital statistics for the rejuvenated diesel engine are impressive. It pumps out a healthy 140kW at 3500rpm and 450Nm of twist at 2000rpm and will sprint from 0-100km/h in a claimed 8.5 seconds.
It has a top speed of 225km/h and though I can't vouch for the v-max claim, on a stretch of autobahn in Germany the car was well within its comfort zone when cruising at 180km/h.
That 450Nm of torque delivers excellent drivability - the car has controlled force, delivering ample acceleration at speeds of 100km/h and under.
The 2.2-litre turbodiesel engine sends power to the rear wheels via an eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox, which suits the car's premium look and feel very nicely. And like XFs, the new four-cylinder Jag also comes as standard with dial selector and tiptronic gear shift paddles.
Drivers looking to reduce their carbon footprint won't be disappointed with the latest XF, which is the greenest car in Jaguar's range. It emits just 149 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre and has a claimed fuel consumption of 5.4L/100km -- frugal enough to deliver a cruising range of more than 1000 kilometres when driven efficiently.
In comparison to its contemporaries, the XF 2.2 diesel is not quite as efficient as the BMW 520d, which sips 5.2L/100km, but significantly more miserly than the five-speed autobox-equipped Mercedes-Benz E220 CDI, which uses fuel at a rate of 5.9L/100km.
Part of the vehicle's efficiency lies in Jaguar's intelligent stop-start system, which gets its first tour of duty on this four-cylinder diesel model. The new system is claimed to be 40 per cent faster than systems employed by its rivals, and though I'm not convinced noticeably faster than BMW's setup, it's certainly no slouch and is relatively seamless in its operation.
>> Class leading interior is stunning
Low fuel consumption and a big whack of torque are certainly not going to count against it, but to rely on these elements alone to convince luxury car buyers to skip past the BMW, Benz and Audi dealerships won't be enough. What Jaguar needs is something unique, and the car's distinctive new look and lavish interior may be the factors that seal the deal.
It's not until you see the car in the flesh and examine it closely that you get a true appreciation of the new design, which incorporates Jag's new corporate face. Though don't call it corporate - this thing has a sophisticated menace about it with all new metal forward of the A-pillar. New look headlights with fashionable LED DRLs are also part of the package, giving the big cat a more sophisticated, contemporary outlook. Interestingly, the British carmaker has also removed the Jaguar wording from the rear of the car, with the only identification being a larger ‘leaper' badge. We're fans of the big chrome cat... Plonk yourself in the Jaguar XF 2.2 Luxury diesel and there's certainly nothing 'entry-level' about the interior. You'll feel as though you've been upgraded to first class. The door thuds shut with muted precision lending the car a sense of solidity, and is followed by two very special moments after ignition is switched on; the metal trotary gear selector rises up out of its recess; and the air vents rotate around to the open position. It's a very impressive way to be greeted by your car -- equal parts techno-cool and classy. And it never gets ‘old', only adding to the sense of occasion.
The cabin is immaculately finished. Leather covers not only the seats, but also the dash and doors, and the plush floor carpets mean that your body is cosseted. However, I did notice the electric steering wheel control made a mild 'clunk' every time I went to adjust it, as if the servos were arthritic. The seats are nicely contoured and finished in high quality bond grain leather (with alcantara) and are accompanied by lovely soft headrests. The updated sports seat design for the 2012 model XF is an improvement, with no loss in comfort and an improvement in lateral support. There's also a couple of little touches that add to the encounter -- the push button operated glove box and seamless touch-screen experience. All told, the Jaguar XF 2.2 Luxury diesel has a richly appointed interior and this is an area that Jaguar edges out its ‘harder' German rivals. I spent some time in the back seats of the new XF and it was surprisingly roomy, with a lot more leg room than I was expecting -- thank the 2909mm wheelbase for that. It's easy to get in and out of too.
The boot is likewise deep, capable of swallowing the two large suit cases and two rucksacks with room to spare thanks to a 500 litre capacity.
>> All the usual suspects
Though the new Jag oiler has not been tested in Australia yet, the previous XF has a four-star ANCAP safety rating and is theoretically not as highly rated as some of its German rivals. However the car has a good number of safety systems as standard, starting with the protective bodyshell, which is made of high strength steels to create a "vertical safety ring around the cabin." A range of driving aids are standard, such as emergency brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution, antilock brakes, traction control, dynamic stability control and cornering brake control. Basically if you jump on the go or stop pedal too hard or in low grip conditions, the car has enough intelligence to keep you on the straight and narrow. Six airbags are also standard, as is a pedestrian contact sensing system, reverse parking sensors, an alarm and engine immobiliser.
>> Mainly the Germans
Entry-level turbodiesel versions of the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class are the Jaguar XF's main competitors, and the Audi A6 2.0 TDI would have been had Audi not decided to discontinue it with the arrival of the all-quattro new generation A6 range (at least for the time being).
Priced at $78,900 the Jaguar XF 2.2 Luxury diesel is more affordable than the BMW 520d ($83,300) and Mercedes-Benz E220 CDI ($82,200). Though Lexus offers a similar sized vehicle in the form of the GS series, it doesn't offer a diesel engine, and it could be argued that for similar money you could buy a top end luxury Holden or HSV. But it's a thin argument...
ON THE ROAD
>> Buttery smooth but agile too
Does Jaguar's new four-cylinder turbodiesel luxury car preserve that leaping cat feel? Thanks to a flat torque curve and a clever eight-speed transmission, I think it does. The XF 2.2 diesel doesn't have the heavy hitting firepower of its 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel sibling, but it is a smooth powerplant, and it would be a harsh critique to accuse the vehicle of being sluggish.
Squeeze the accelerator pedal and the engine channels its power smoothly and quietly with a sufficient level of refinement for a car in the premium segment, while shifting the car's mass with some urgency when called for. The new four-cylinder powertrain is a good fit for the XF and will give rusted-on BMW and Benz buyers something new to consider in this price range.
The cabin is nicely insulated against most outside noises, which means driver and passengers will never have to raise their voices to be heard. The gearbox pairs nicely with Jag's four-cylinder oiler and though the paddle shifters are complimentary, they're unnecessary. The eight-speed cog swapper never missed a beat when left to its own devices, always choosing the appropriate gear, whether trundling through sleepy German towns or hoofing it along the autobahn.
Even on winding roads that revealed impressive handling dynamics, the box performed better when left in 'D' than using the steering wheel paddleshifters.
Though the XF is almost five metres long, it feels as though it closes around you quite nicely when in motion, which is due to a predictable steering setup. The steering wheel responded well to input at high speeds and low, with a direct feel that made the journey just that little bit more involving.
The car felt very planted at higher speeds on the autobahn. Methinks the new look might even have added a little more downforce at higher speeds, as it has a discernable 'tied to the road' feel. Maybe it's just heavy...
When we headed up into the hills on the outskirts of Munich, cutting through some amazingly picturesque valleys, feedback through the wheel was masked somewhat by the power steering setup, and there was some tyre slap on concreted sections of highway. That said, for the most part the car is hard to fault -- Jaguar's chassis engineers have delivered an impressively balanced car that was a pleasure to drive.
And in a dynamic sense, the Jag still has its sportscar DNA, having no problems attacking corners. Tracking ably through corners with the same sort of composure it cruised arterial roads, it never really got flustered or unstable and was easy to guide through corners. The front end exhibits a confidence that belies the car's size.
Indeed, the Jaguar XF has an outstanding chassis tune that balances ride quality and handling prowess without compromising either. It's effortless to punt the fast and hard, yet is still satisfying when driven at less extreme speeds. Unlike some of its competitors, the new XF has enough compliance in its suspension to remain suitably comfortable when cruising.
Jaguar's new four-cylinder diesel engine XF doesn't push the envelope in any great way, but it does make a number of small improvements, all of which contribute to what is one of the best vehicles in its class.
It was an audacious move for Jaguar to launch the new 2012 XF 2.2 diesel in Munich, but as it happens the car fitted in remarkably well.